Talk about a lose-lose situation ...
When Janelle Monáe was interviewed for Marie Claire's 2017 Fresh Faces issue, the 31-year-old singer decided to use the platform to make a bold statement about the importance of equal rights for women.
And one of her specific suggestions — that women should be withholding sex from men until they join us in our fight for equal rights — has heads nodding all over the Internet.
Monáe stated the followed:
"People have to start respecting the vagina. Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex. I love men. But evil men? I will not tolerate that. You don't deserve to be in my presence. If you're going to own this world and this is how you're going to rule this world, I am not going to contribute anymore until you change it. We have to realize our power and our magic."
There is so much that is of significant value in her words.
Yes, people need to respect the vagina. Yes, evil men (and evil women, I might add) should not be tolerated. And yes, there is power in withholding personal contributions from the powers that be until change is achieved ...
But let's be very clear about one thing right now.
Sex is not a woman's "contribution" to men, to relationships, to society, or to anyone else.
Women possess power and women possess magic — and both of those qualities lie far deeper within ourselves than the space between our legs.
I can see why the idea of a "sex strike" of sorts might sound like a strategically smart idea to some at first.
The trouble with such strikes is that rather than promoting the ideals of any types of feminism — from Liberal to Cultural to Socialist to Radical to Intersectional and on and on — is that withholding sex from men only reinforces patriarchal stereotypes of women that are sex-negative at best and plain old dangerous at worst.
Monáe responded to the criticism she received by backtracking a bit on Twitter...
And quickly adding an explanation for the thinking behind her initial battle cry.
I feel for Monáe, I do.
I can easily relate to being THE woman in a room full of male "leaders," as I am sure most women can. I know what it feels like to be dismissed and devalued.
To be asked by men of the same (or lower!) professional status if I can refill the coffee pot.
To be passed over — and over again — when raising my hand to make a suggestion or offer my opinion.
To be chastised for interrupting the male who is speaking. You know, the male who is currently speaking because HE interrupted ME, and no one said, "Boo."
And you can be damn sure I know what it's like to think up some drastic plan to deal with the madness once and for all ... because that shit needs to STOP.
Trouble is, when the sex strike idea is given serious consideration by women in privileged positions of power, as Monáe currently is, we stand a chance of causing serious harm to women all over the world.
Here are just four reasons women have SO much more to lose than anyone else in a "sex strike."
1. Using sex as currency validates the argument of those who equate marriage with prostitution.
When the contractor you hired to remodel your home refuses to do more work until they get paid, their position is obviously justified.
A sex strike puts women in the position of the contractor/employee, men in the position of the homeowner/boss, turns a marriage license into a work contract, implies that sex is women's standard work product, and backs the position that equal rights are the currency we earn — if we perform our job up to the expected and contractually agreed upon standards, of course.
Unacceptable. All of it.
2. Using sex as currency validates the false, sex-negative perception that women do not enjoy sex.
A sex strike could only be effective if, in enacting one, women were denying men something that THEY want but that WE are perfectly OK going without.
I don't know about anyone else, but I am one cranky-ass bitch when I have to go without sex for too long. How am I valuing my vagina by making it refrain from sex with a man, given that I am a heterosexual woman?
The logic just does not compute, and worse, it reinforces stereotypes that women don't, or at least shouldn't, want sex as much (or sometimes more) than men.
3. Using sex as currency validates the idea that women may sometimes OWE sex to men.
Going back to the contractor/homeowner model in number one above, now let's say the homeowner has indeed paid for the services requested. Contractually, the employee is obligated to produce her work product and to make sure it meets the standards set out as expectations when they entered into their contractual agreement.
Now let's say that contractor is a woman who got a little sext-y the night before a date with a new (or old) guy and she promised that after he treats her to an expensive steak dinner she will blow his ... mind — but over the course of said dinner he says some really douchey things and her attraction to him dies a quick yet painful death. Welp, he paid the agreed upon amount for her services. Does she have the right to renege on her work product?
Of course, she does! Because sexual activity between adults must ALWAYS be consensual, and both men AND women retain the right to withdraw their consent at any moment for any reason.
When you advocate for treating sex as currency in the way sex strikes do, you muddy the already far too cloudy waters of rape culture. So let's not even go there, please.
4. Using sex as currency validates slut-shaming behaviors among women.
Strikes are only effective when a significant enough number of people participate. So in order for a sex strike by women to impact men throughout our country — or the world — significantly, the vast majority of women would have to participate.
But what about those women who love having sex with their men and frankly, do not want to stop? Female bullying via slut-shaming is a troublesome enough problem as it is. Do we really need another reason to pit ourselves against one another, especially in light of our perceived personal desire for sex? I really don't think so.
In the same interview, Monáe also said this:
"I don't think we all have to take the same coordinates to reach the same destination. I believe in embracing what makes you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. I have learned there is power in saying no. I have agency. I get to decide."
Abso-f*cking-lutely! Now that I can get behind.
So let's not bash Monáe for her gut reaction to a problem that has been troubling us all for too long. I, for one, hope she will see this as an opportunity to give these issues deeper thought and then promote some truly strategic ideas that just might work.
You never know. We women DO have magic!